Health Schools

Additional COVID Cases Reported, but West Hartford High Schools Remain Open

West Hartford Public Schools Superintendent's Office. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

One individual at West Hartford’s Conard High School has tested positive for COVID-19, and a second person at Hall High School also has received a positive diagnosis of coronavirus.

By Ronni Newton

There are currently three individuals in the West Hartford Public Schools community who have tested positive for COVID-19 – two at Hall High School and one at Conard High School – but all of the district’s schools remain open, Superintendent Tom Moore said.

School officials received notice of the first positive case on Friday night, involving someone from Hall High School, and Assistant Superintendent Andy Morrow advised the community Saturday morning via email. The individual who tested positive had not been in school all week, and after extensive cleaning and disinfecting, which is done every night, the school opened as usual on Monday morning.

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the district was notified that an individual at Conard High School had tested positive.

In a letter to the community, Morrow said that the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District was immediately notified and began the process of contact tracing “to identify students and staff who should quarantine due to possible exposure.”

The person from Conard, who has been directed to remain home in isolation, had been in the building on Monday, Sept. 21, Morrow said.

“All students and staff who have had close contact (defined as contact with someone who is less than 6 feet away for at least 15 minutes) with the positive individual have been identified by the Health District and Conard’s administration, and are beginning a 14-day quarantine period. The Health District and our nursing staff will follow up with parents this week and monitor students for any signs of illness,” said Morrow.

Both Conard and Hall held in-school SAT testing for seniors on Wednesday, and although the school buildings were open, only seniors were present in person. As planned in advance, students in grades 9-11, on both the Red and Blue teams, were working remotely for the day on asynchronous lessons.

The district learned Wednesday that a second individual from Hall High School has received a positive COVID-19 test, and immediately notified the Health District which initiated contact tracing procedures to identify students and staff who have been exposed to the individual and should quarantine.

According to Morrow, the individual from Hall was last in the building on Friday, Sept. 18, and has been directed to remain in isolation at home.

As with the other cases in the West Hartford Public Schools community, the Health District and nursing staff will continue to follow up with parents and monitor students for any signs of illness.

Moore said that he has been asked many times why the schools aren’t being closed for “deep cleaning” in response to the positive cases.

“We do deep cleaning every night,” Moore told We-Ha.com.

Schools are closed to visitors, and clubs are not permitted to operate in the buildings to allow for that cleaning to take place once students and staff leave for the day.

“While we knew all along that we would have positive cases in our schools, it is still disconcerting to all of us to see any of our community infected. We are following the strategies we put in place with our reopening plan over the summer, and the good news from all of this is that so far, none of the cases had a nexus within our schools,” Moore wrote in a letter to the community Wednesday afternoon.

West Hartford is the 10th largest school district in the case, and it was expected that there would be cases, Moore said, but it is not cause for panic.

“My big concern is if it is being spread in the schools,” Moore said, but that does not appear to be the case. Officials from the state Department of Public Health have said the same thing about K-12 schools statewide.

Since Friday, according to data reported this week by the Department of Health, there have been 19 additional positive cases reported in West Hartford, but only three of those involve members of the West Hartford Public Schools community.

There is no information available about whether any of the other West Hartford cases involve family members or are in any way related to the cases at Hall or Conard, but Moore did confirm that while there are staff members and students in quarantine throughout the district, there are no reported cases in any of the town’s public elementary or middle schools.

Moore reiterated that it is important that everyone do their part to protect the community.

“In school, the kids are doing a good job with their masks, but if the minute the leave school they get into the car with their friends and they take their masks off …” that’s not a good thing, Moore said.

“Your children need to wear their masks with friends, both inside and outside of schools. Please continue to limit gatherings, not just to protect your child, but to protect others. Finally, it is critically important to go through our checklist every day, and not allow your child to go to school if they are experiencing symptoms,” Moore said to families in Wednesday’s letter.

If a cluster were to appear, or if the Health District needed additional time to perform contact tracing, then there might be a need for closing a school.

West Hartford’s hybrid plan – with a week on/week off rather than splitting the week like many other districts have done – is in part intended so that an onset of symptoms might happen during a student’s “off” week, “this has, in fact happened in two of our three situations, thereby limiting the need for quarantining others,” Moore said.

“The protocol for who goes in quarantine, be they student or staff, is based on exposure: Were they within six feet for fifteen minutes or more? Were they around the person who is positive without masks? Seating charts are vital, and they have made our contact tracing go much quicker than otherwise. If there is doubt as to a distance or time, we err on the side of caution,” Moore’s letter states.

The district’s COVID dashboard (see below) is updated at noon every day. The second Hall case was reported after Wednesday’s update took place, and is therefore not reflected.

Moore said he knows there is anxiety, but he pledged to remain transparent and have open and direct communication with the community.

“The most important metric we analyze for is if the disease is spreading in the schools. I will not allow us to stay open if we are an incubator that is leading to spikes within our community. With that said, however, there is still no indication of spread in our schools, the community numbers are still low overall, and we are still working towards a return of all to school, first for all elementary schools, on Oct. 13. If the situation changes, we will adjust, and we monitor it daily,” said Moore.

Morrow also reiterated that families have a responsibility and need to continue to adhere to the district’s health protocols and check every morning that:

  1. Your student does NOT have a fever greater than 100 degrees OR lower if your child is not feeling well.
  2. Your student doesn’t have other signs of illness. 
  3. No one in your household has a fever or sign of illness.
  4. Your student has not been in close contact (within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes) with anyone confirmed with COVID-19 within the last two weeks.

“If the answer is YES to any of these questions, DO NOT send your student to school. Instead follow quarantine protocols for your child and contact your healthcare provider as well as your school,” Morrow said, thanking the community for “cooperation and support in maintaining our community’s health and reinforcing the measures that we have put in place.”

Moore also thanked families for their trust, patience, and support.

“While this time is not an easy one to live in, with constant stressors and fears, we must be examples of resilience to our children. I am deeply thankful to our teachers and staff who are coming in every day and providing a happy and nurturing environment to our children, while knowing that reading, math, and other academic subjects barely scratch the surface of what we are truly teaching,” he said.

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